As many people know, I often met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad between 2004 and 2009 to write his biography and then as an informal liaison between the United States and Syria at a time when bilateral relations were stressful. I met with several high-level Syrian officials, and I established relations with the Syrian President.
After a brutal civil war that is still raging in parts of the country, some of these people have been labeled as war criminals in the West, real or legal – first and foremost among them Assad. There is a wide net of international sanctions, notably the Caesar Act passed by the US Congress, and UN resolutions against the Syrian government. How can the Biden administration agree to initiate talks with a government so isolated in the West, if it is not hated?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Trust me, I get it. I, myself, have a hard time advocating any kind of dialogue with people who have so much blood on their hands; However, it has been a deadly and devastating civil war with many people on all sides in Syria with blood on their hands.
But I gravitate towards a more realistic foreign policy in this instance. It is not that moralistic and realistic foreign policies are mutually exclusive. It is always more pleasant politically and psychologically if a particular foreign policy is accompanied by a moral imperative. But they are often separated by necessity and circumstances, which can be better digested if one is convinced that there is a greater good at stake. In my opinion, careful negotiation and a built US-Syrian dialogue can be mutually beneficial. As a US citizen, I think to myself: How can the United States benefit from this? What do the Syrian people have to offer?
The United States does not need Syria as much as the reverse. The dilapidated and dying Syrian economy is in dire need of humanitarian and reconstruction aid as well as long-term foreign investment to begin the difficult task of trying to rebuild the country. Bottom line: Syria needs sanctions relief, and because of the harsh Treasury Department penalties imposed on any entity that violates the Caesar Act, the US is in a unique position to do so.
For the United States, stability in Syria is important—not only because of the enormous suffering and understandable rebellion that has unfolded since the start of the Syrian war, and because of the heartbreak that Americans feel when faced with it. , but also because Syria borders US allies (Israel, Jordan and Turkey) as well as countries that are headed for state failure (Lebanon and Iraq). A further destabilizing spillover from Syria may be the last straw.
Furthermore, as one of Syria’s main allies in the civil war with Russia, Iran’s footprint in the country is wide – including that of its dutiful client, Hezbollah. Almost since the start of the conflict, Hezbollah’s increased presence in the country alone has been, and continues to be, seen as a constant threat to Israel; Therefore, it is the ignition that could potentially set fire to a territorial war. It is in the interest of the US and its allies to reduce the Iranian presence.
So, there is a possibility of some kind of agreement which can be beneficial for both the countries. While it may be true that the US is unlikely to lift its sanctions in bulk, just as it is unlikely that Syria will drive Iran out of its country, on Hezbollah’s presence in exchange for a phased reduction in sanctions on things like rebuilding supplies. Something like a limit that is widely feasible will at least improve marginally in a dire situation.
The Biden administration has yet to set its Syria policy, something that is likely to happen in the coming months as it continues to evaluate the situation and the new administration’s foreign policies still coming together on a host of global issues. Looks like.
There are people in the administration who are determined to keep the pressure on Assad until he falls from power – they certainly don’t want to reward him with sanctions relief for being a war criminal. And there are those who believe in this more realistic view, that there is some potential reward, if for no other reason than to provide more humanitarian aid to long-suffering populations.
I can’t stress this enough: The Biden administration’s Syria policy could go in some direction, and once it’s established, it’s going to be repeated again for at least the next four years, except in the event of a crisis. It would be very difficult to change. Small gestures by Syria now may have disproportionately beneficial effects in the long term.
What can Syria indicate to start talks?
It is widely believed in Western government and media circles that the Syrian government has captured American journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in Syria in August 2012.
It is my view that no progress on US-Syrian relations will progress without Syria’s acceptance and cooperation in providing credible information on Austin Tice. Once this is done, the door is open for more negotiations, and the Biden administration’s Syria policy could very well move in that direction, even if it were for Assad to step down and take over a transitional government. Said to remain the American target.
PRESIDENT ASSAD: The time has come for you to meet the Biden administration at any middle ground, including disclosing any potential information about Austin Tice’s whereabouts. It is the right thing to do, and now is the right time.